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Google, Facebook rush Iranian language support

To facilitate communication in Iran's native tongue, Google hastily adds translation support for Farsi, or Persian, while Facebook makes its site available to native speakers.

Twitter has the starring role as opening up Net communications about Iran's turbulent politics, but Google and Facebook are jumping in with their its own hasty efforts.

Google is adding Farsi, or Persian, language support to its translation service, the company announced Thursday night. Google rushed out the support specifically because of events in Iran, said Principal Scientist Franz Och in a blog posting.

Google used its YouTube blog to spotlight often violent conflicts between Iranian police and protesters.
Google used its YouTube blog to spotlight often violent conflicts between Iranian police and protesters. Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

"We feel that launching Persian is particularly important now, given ongoing events in Iran," Och said. "Like YouTube and other services, Google Translate is one more tool that Persian speakers can use to communicate directly to the world, and vice versa--increasing everyone's access to information."

And Facebook produced a beta version of its social-networking site in Persian, Facebook localization engineer Eric Kwan said in a blog posting.

"Since the Iranian election last week, people around the world have increasingly been sharing news and information on Facebook about the results and its aftermath. Much of the content created and shared has been in Persian--the native language of Iran--but people have had to navigate the site in English or other languages," Kwan said. "We could not have made this happen so quickly without the more than 400 Persian speakers who submitted thousands of individual translations of the site."

Google's translation service so far is optimized for translating between English and Farsi, but Google is working on expanding that to support other language combinations, Och said. A quick test for me showed it workable translating Persian to English.

The Internet lowers barriers between different cultures, countries, and languages, but censors can seriously curtail access to Internet services. Of course, there often are ways to sidestep censors for those with some technical know-how.

Google also has spotlighted citizen journalist efforts on YouTube to document the crackdown on Iranian protesters.

Google has struggled with censorship in China in particular, concluding that censorship cooperation is better than not participating in the market at all.